New Labour and beyond
DOI link for New Labour and beyond
New Labour and beyond book
Writing about recent British history poses a challenge for historians, as the ultimate outcome of many of the events of the last quarter-century remains unclear. Both major political parties have seen signiﬁcant evolutions. In the 1990s, Labour remade itself into “New Labour,” which took the party to its greatest-ever heights of success,
with three general election victories in a row between 1997 and 2005. But by the end of the party’s period in power in 2010, the questions as to whether it had “sold its soul” in order to win elections were growing ever-louder, and its future direction was uncertain. The retreat of the Conservatives from the “Thatcher Revolution,”meanwhile, allowed them to achieve victory in 2010. But though David Cameron’s less combative, more inclusive version of conservatism seems likely to endure, what the future will hold for them, too, is unclear, as the Tories remain divided between their left and right wings over Europe, social policy, and immigration. For both Labour and the Conservatives, the distance between the leadership and the back benches has grown larger. These political changes have taken place in the context of, and in many ways have
been driven by, a changing British society. Britain was a far more diverse place in 2010 than it was even a few decades earlier, thanks largely to the arrival of a signiﬁcant number of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. The extent of the changes they have brought can be exaggerated: the demographics of many parts of rural Britain remain largely unchanged. But the revelation in the 2011 census that “white Britons” were now a minority of London’s population was undeniable evidence that the diversity of many urban areas had increased markedly. At the same time, the diversity of the United Kingdom was demonstrated in other
ways. In the late 1990s, Scotland and Wales were granted their own devolved legislative assemblies, which had authority over most domestic aﬀairs, while international matters and energy policy remained under the jurisdiction of the Westminster Parliament. In Northern Ireland, the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 held out the promise of a lasting peace; there, too, a new assembly led to a more autonomous state in which Catholic nationalists and Protestant Unionists shared power, albeit sometimes uneasily. This new devolved system of governance means that the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom are now more complex than ever. While MPs representing Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland continue to sit in the Westminster Parliament and to vote on English aﬀairs, MPs representing England do not have the same privilege in the devolved assemblies. Though this system in some ways acknowledges and redresses the longstanding imbalance of power among England and the other parts of the United Kingdom, it is also politically anomalous. As discussions are ongoing as to whether Scotland in particular will move further away from the United Kingdom and closer to full independence, it remains to be seen how long it will continue to exist in its present form.